After a month abroad, I’m finally back at my desk in Berlin with a cold club-mate in hand. We got in to Berlin around 4pm yesterday after having been traveling for 15 some odd hours. After catching up with the friend who was apartment sitting for me over pizza, we passed out and slept for another 15 hours. It feels really good to be home after a month in the US. A month sounds like a long time to be away, and in a way it is, but we had so much packed into that month that I felt like we were constantly running around.

I checked and the last place I left off in my story was my first day in Boston. The two weeks I spent in Boston were perhaps the most relaxed of the trip. Other than that, we spent no more than 3ish days in a location, and sometimes as short as 24hrs.

The rest of my Boston experience was great. I’ve been working at my current company for about a year now and the entire time I’ve only known people from the main office through video calls. It’s like a long distance relationship, but where you’ve never actually met before starting it off. It was great to finally meet people in real life and see how they were different than what I knew or guessed from just having seen them on camera or over the phone.

I got a really great sense of the scale of the company. My office is about 200 people, the head office is about 2000.

The office is in a really fancy mall building:

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The office has several kitchen spaces, each with a wall of snacks so tall you need a step-ladder.IMG_20150831_152109

There’s all that free food and then a little warning sticker at the top right of the soda vending machine…I gained a shirt size in 2 weeks, it’s terrible.IMG_20150831_160129

Stacks and stacks of coffee cups for the workersIMG_20150902_081323

There are also really neat game rooms, including a retro arcade a friend of mine built.IMG_20150904_160425

One of the cool projects I got to work on there was building more networking racks!IMG_20150904_143809

After my first week in Boston by myself, Insa flew in to meet up with an old friend of hers who lived in the area. Sometimes after work and on the weekends we’d all meet up and go do fun things around the city. Here we are kayaking on the Charles river:

From Boston we got on a short flight to Ohio to attend the wedding of some friends. It was hosted near and old historic house out in the middle of Ohio near where the bride grew up. It was the marriage of an American and a German, so the wedding was done in two languages. The guests were about half and half too, which made approaching and talking to people interesting because you didn’t know if you should speak English or German to them.

The house the wedding took place near was in a national park, and this being America, there was no drinking allowed outside. The wedding hosts had to spend a special email out to all the German guests to remind them of America’s stance on drinking outside, but in the end it was a wedding and we all just did it anyways.

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Before the wedding took place we did some exploring around and found a groundhog!

Driving around on the highway in Ohio we were reminded what country we were in:

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If you look at the RVs in the picture you can see just how HUGE that flag is. Insa remarked in true Berliner fashion: “You could build a tent for refugees with that flag…”

I learned about a German wedding tradition while there. Apparently it’s customary for the bride and groom to saw threw a log together after being married. I guess it’s supposed to show that they’re a strong team and can work together.

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After the wedding Insa and I packed up our stuff and caught a flight down to South Carolina to see my parents. I hadn’t seen them since Christmas and this was Insa’s first time meeting them.

When we pulled up to my parent’s house, they let us our first so we could go in and say hi to the dogs. They worship my father and so they’d be more interested in him being home than me, despite the fact that I disappeared several months ago.

When the sun came up, Insa and I took them for a walk. My parents live in a gated community and Insa remarked that it felt strange walking around there because it felt like she was on the set of some American TV show about housewives in suburbia.

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After walking the dogs, I introduced Insa to the game of corn-hole.

We also took a quick trip to my parent’s previous house in SC, the one I left for Germany from.IMG_20150916_095944

I also found some of my old armor:

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While in South Carolina I wanted to give Insa a few cultural experiences she could only get while there; one of these was taking her to a shooting range. Insa and I have very different views on firearms, and she was really reluctant to go. I was terrified of guns growing up, but then decided I wanted to get over that fear by learning about them and how to properly handle them. As part of this, I went and got my concealed carry permit, which required criminal and mental background checks, and a few hours of instructional classes.

I wanted to teach Insa about the different types of firearms and so I brought a .22 long rifle, a .357 revolver, and we rented a Glock 17. Insa flat out refused to shoot at anything even remotely human shaped, including abstract silhouettes, so we had to use a target of a crazy zombie chicken instead.

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I went first and showed her how to keep it pointed in a safe direction, and taught her about trigger finger control and always keeping your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. It took a lot for her to finally shoot once and even after that she needed a break for a bit. I could tell she was really uncomfortable with it. She later told me that she was just looking at the gun and imaging all the horrible things that people have done with them and that it just made her feel sick. She said the only way she could shoot it was if she pushed all that away and just imagined it as a game and trying to score points on the zombie chicken.IMG_20150914_172650

She and I have talked about guns before, but we had another good discussion about them afterwards. I’m very much of the view that they are just pieces of metal and it is the person using it, and their intentions, that give the gun any kind of morality or meaning. Like every technology, it can be used for good and bad purposes.

Perhaps just as distressing and traumatizing to Insa was Waffle House. For anyone who doesn’t know what Waffle House is, it’s a diner style restaurant that is open 24/7 and serves very cheap and greasy food. It’s great if you’ve been drinking or are just up really late and want somewhere to get a bite to eat.

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We grabbed a booth, had two cups of coffee and looked at the menu. The southern united states can be a difficult place to eat if you’re a vegetarian.

Insa took one sip of the coffee and was immediately disgusted. While sitting there tallking, she kept forgetting how bad the coffee was and took another sip only to be reminded. After the experience she said, and I quote, “My personal imagination of hell has changed.” We even bought a Waffle House coffee mug as a memorial.

But the south wasn’t all trauma for Insa, she did enjoy Krispy Kreme’s:

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We also spent a really nice day out on Lake Murray:

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I really need to go to the gym again…IMG-20150927-WA0024 IMG_20150915_133639

Some of the houses on the lake are just nuts…IMG_20150915_121325 IMG_20150915_121249 IMG_20150915_121229

Insa got to drive the boat:

Despite being there with Insa and my family, South Carolina is a difficult place for me to visit. I wasn’t particularly happy there and I have a lot of bad memories and experiences associated with the place. Nonetheless, it was good to show Insa the world I had escaped from and how different it was from Berlin. I was a bit sad that I was only able to see my parents for three days, but they’re coming to visit me in a month, so it’s alright.

From South Carolina we took an 8hr bus ride to Richmond, VA to see one of Insa’s friends. It sounded like a good idea on paper: take a bus starting at 3am and sleep during the trip. The moment we got on, we knew we weren’t going to sleep. The seats weren’t very comfortable and the bus made several stops along the way.

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Saw this truck on the road. Oh ‘murica and your jacked up trucks…
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Richmond, VA:IMG_20150917_142912While up in Williamsburg we visited Insa’s friend and he showed us around the campus of William & Mary, along with Colonial Williamsburg. IMG_20150918_175239

As a special side trip for me, we drove down to Virginia Beach, the town I grew up in, and visited my old childhood house, elementary school, and high school.

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Outside of my elementary school there is a time capsule. I graduated elementary school in 1999 and my mom helped organize the creation and burial of a time capsule for my class. We all put notes and things related to our lives in the time capsule and had it chemically sealed and buried under a plaque. I checked and it’s still there.

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I took Insa and her friend to Chick’s beach and then to a waterfront restaurant we sometimes went to as kids where you can pull your boat right up to the restaurant.

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After Williamsburg and Virginia Beach, we stopped in DC/Maryland to see my sister and my old college best friends. Last time I saw them was right before I left for Germany.

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From DC we took another bus to our final stop, NYC where we’d stay with another one of Insa’s university friends before leaving for home.

Insa’s birthday and our 1 year anniversary of dating happened to fall while we were in NYC, so I surprised her with a sunset sailboat cruise around the harbor:

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Funnily enough, we sat by a pair of Germans who we later crossed paths with again while walking across the Brooklyn bridge.

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There’s this cool park called the “Highline” running though NYC that’s an old raised rail line now turned into a park.IMG_20150922_141653 IMG_20150922_000251 IMG_20150923_221409 IMG_20150923_194044

Insa gets mad whenever I take a picture cutting off either her head or feet.IMG-20150925-WA0000

Times Square was surprisingly not too crowded.IMG_20150922_122809 IMG-20150927-WA0041

NYC is nice, but it honestly isn’t my kind of town. I think Berlin is as big as I want to go. (I found out Berlin’s actually the same population size as Los Angeles) The whole place was just really loud and stressful. Insa and I had a few times where we had the day to ourselves to just do whatever we wanted, and it turned out to be super stressful trying to figure out where to go and what subway to take. I know a lot of people in Berlin hate the Berlin u-bahn company BVG, but I really missed them after experiencing Boston and NYC’s subway systems. Even in NYC, the largest city in the US, there wasn’t even the most basic indication of when the next train was arriving. Several times we boarded a local train, one that stops at every station, and then had them change their mind and become an express train, one that skips some stations. The whole thing was just confusing and frustrating.

Our last day in NYC the pope was coming to town. This made traffic horrible so it was difficult to get around anywhere. We ended up hitting Coney Island briefly as a final place to visit as it’s in the opposite direction of all the craziness.

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The flight back was long and tiring. We had to stop in Gatwick in the UK to change flights. We got off the airplane in Gatwick and had to go through security again, which felt incredibly stupid. Why? How does it make sense to go though security again after we just got off the plane and are immediately boarding a new plane? But whatever.IMG_20150925_223619

I technically got back yesterday, but the whole thing feels like a blur right now. I’m just super excited to be back home in Berlin. I’m looking forward to seeing people at my office tomorrow, but I’m a little nervous about the month of emails I have waiting for me when I return.